How does one meet a staircase? My first response is negligently. Staircases incite an immediacy to respond that must tap into some basic human desire to rise or perhaps to conquer. We move forward, lacking knowledge of the history of the thing before us, comforted by its repetition of elements. One, two, three. Each stair dissolves into another. The body meets this architecture and usually complies. We pierce rooms and hold, but stairways, like doorways, are only to be passed through, without pause, and forgotten. At least this is true most of the time.
A few years ago in New York, I wandered through the spines of books at a library sale. Among the de-acquisitioned, I came across The Staircase: Studies of Hazards, Falls, and Safer Design by John Templer. I was immediately drawn to the book, intrigued by its isolation of an architectural structure that someone would take the time to acknowledge with such in-depth research and study. I wondered about the author and his history. Was there a brush with a staircase in his life that he wanted to symbolically mend? Published in March of 1995, the book offers what now, 17 years later, seems like dated statistics, but at the time was hailed as “the first theoretical, historical, and scientific analysis of one of the most basic and universal building elements: the stair.” While highlighting structural failures that lead to falls and accidents, Templer also includes beautiful diagrams of traffic flows, illustrating the ways the design of a staircase can lead its users to proceed. I love this book for its methodical breakdown of stairs and its commitment to isolating stair risks and hopefully fixing them. Even with all of this analysis in mind, the thing about a set of stairs that feels most potent is the way it leads us, prompts us and reminds us that (potentially) we are all susceptible to a fall.
– Joy Drury Cox
Joy Drury Cox is an artist who is living and working. Her work has been shown in New York City and examples of it can be seen here. In June of 2012, her first book, Old Man and Sea, was published by Conveyor.